Into the Fray: Bennett at Saban: What he should – and shouldn’t – have said

Naftali Bennett gave a spirited performance at the recent Saban Forum, but was far more convincing on what should not be done, than on what should be done.

By Martin Sherman, JPOST

Naftali Bennett

Naftali Bennett. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

You know, I just think you live in another reality. It’s what Steve Jobs called distorted reality thinking.
Martin Indyk to Naftali Bennett, at the 2014 Saban Forum.

How many missiles need to fall on Ashkelon until you’ll wake up? How many? How many people need to die in our country until you wake up from this illusion?
Naftali Bennett to Martin Indyk, at the 2014 Saban Forum.

Last weekend, the 11th annual Saban Forum convened in Washington, with its usual bevy of high-profile participants, to discuss the developments in the Middle East, Israel-US relations and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Hardly hospitable milieu

Funded by Democratic benefactor Haim Saban, and hosted by the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, the tenor of the Forum is usually left-wing on Mideast affairs, with a strong bent in favor of the two-state principle and the land-for-peace doctrine.

This year’s lineup included former US secretary of state for the Obama administration Hillary Clinton; the current US Secretary of State for the Obama administration, John Kerry; Labor Party head Isaac “Bugie” Herzog; Martin Indyk, Brookings vice president, until recently Kerry’s special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; and Jeffrey Goldberg, the Obama-philic columnist seen widely as a mouth piece for the White House.

Clearly the Forum was hardly the most hospitable milieu for someone like Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, generally considered one of most hawkish/right-wing members of the government. As Bennett quipped, if he conducted “a poll here, probably Zehava Gal-On [head of the far-left Meretz party] would be prime minister and maybe Tzipi Livni No. 2.”

The disparity between Bennett and the overall ambiance of the Forum was highlighted by the fact that his participation in the event comprised a lengthy “conversation” (“confrontation” might be more appropriate) with the Saban Center’s Indyk.

In early May, Indyk, whose views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and ways to solve it are wildly incompatible with those of Bennett, accused proponents of settlements within the government (who clearly include Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi party) of “sabotaging” the negotiations he (Indyk) was charged with conducting.

A spirited performance

It was in this clearly confrontational environment that Bennett was called upon to articulate his views on how Israel should chart its future.

To his credit, he gave a spirited performance, deftly parrying and resolutely rebutting most of Indyk’s adversarial jibes. He conducted himself with confidence, assertively countering and contradicting many of his interlocutor’s claims. Bennett did well in exposing the grave, counterproductive defects of the land-for-peace doctrine, the disastrous consequences it has had in the past, and will have in the future if pursued any further.

He remained unintimidated by threats of demographic disaster and economic sanctions. He pointed out that the demographic statistics are far less daunting than commonly touted, enumerated the great contributions Israeli ingenuity and innovation has made to humanity and why it is a sought after partner economically, despite the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians.

Bennett’s defiant demeanor in his rejection of conventional wisdom regarding the Israeli-Palestinian impasse was a welcome and refreshing change compared to the mealy-mouthed ambiguity and demeaning self-recrimination we have become accustomed to from many Israeli politicians. He made the telling point that by paying lip service to the unrealistic, and unattainable, two-state principle, Israel is undermining its own credibility – since it is unable to undertake measures, on the one hand, and unable to refrain from measures, on the other, to make its implementation feasible. In this regard he, correctly, observed: “… we’re in the pit we’re in precisely because we’re inconsistent.”

Ascending force in Israeli politics

Judging from the approving responses received from several right-wing pundits – and from the dismay of detractors – Bennett’s appearance is likely to enhance his electoral potential in the coming election.

Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi party are a distinctly ascendant force in Israeli politics. However, it is precisely because of his growing influence that Bennett’s political proclamations need to be carefully scrutinized and his political prescriptions critically examined for any inconsistencies of the kind he correctly identifies in the two-state/land-forpeace proposal.

After all if the Israeli Right is to produce a cogent and convincing alternative to the dominant two-state paradigm (or its default option of an un-Jewish one-state-of-all-itscitizens), it must be thoroughly thought through, and the consequences of its implementation realistically assessed.

This is essential if it is to avoid being entangled in the selfsame contradictions between lip service to ideas that are either unattainable in the short run, or unsustainable in the long run, and the measures required to implement them.

Defects and omissions

In this regard, I have in the past expressed my grave reservations as to some of the ideas Bennett raised in his Saban Forum “conversation,” which if adopted will almost certainly lead Israel into a perilous cul-de-sac, attenuating little, if any, of the dangers entailed in present proposals and, in fact, exacerbating many of them.

I cannot provide a detailed critique of the entire Bennett- Indyk exchange (almost 15,000 words). However, I should like to touch on some major defects and omissions in Bennett’s policy proposal – on some of the things that should not be said, and some which should be, but were not.

Bennett’s blueprint involves basically four elements which he set out in a November New York Times op-ed titled “For Israel, Two-State Is No Solution.” Indyk summarized them: “… upgrading Palestinian autonomy; upgrading the infrastructure in the West Bank; upgrading economic relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority; and the kicker, annexing Area C while offering the Palestinians in Area C [Israeli] citizenship.”

Sadly, none of these elements – neither on their own nor in combination – can contribute toward long-term stability in Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, or diminish any of Israel’s current security problems and diplomatic predicaments.

Same political pain

As the response from Indyk and the Forum’s sponsor Haim Saban indicated, the political pain in terms of international sanctions and censure involved in the annexation of Area C alone will almost certainly be no less than that involved in annexing the entire area of Judea-Samaria – i.e. including Area A and B.

True, Bennett did admit that he could not implement his plan immediately: “I’m not tomorrow going to annex Area C. It might take 20 years, it might take 40 years.”

True, he did acknowledge that he was “not suggesting that… one day… we just do that. There’s a process of changing the global view… And it takes time. It’s an uphill battle.”

I, of course, strongly endorse the view that Israel needs to dramatically upgrade its public diplomacy efforts across the world, and to invest massively in changing international perceptions of the conflict. However, I am at a loss as to how it would successfully promote a Bennett- like prescription, no matter how great the connecting highways and available infrastructure. For, after 20 to 40 years, all it envisages for 90 percent of the Arab residents of Judea-Samaria is being confined to 40% of the area, scattered across a myriad of disconnected enclaves and corridors, in a state of unenfranchised, open-ended stateless political suspension.

But more on that a little later

Dubious demographics

Much of the rationale of Bennett’s proposal hinges on the prevailing demographic distribution and the relatively small (about 100,000) Arab population, resident in Area C, to whom he suggests offering Israeli citizenship – in order to obviate any allegations of “apartheid.”

However, unless Israel can demarcate and secure the borders of Area C, there will be no way of preventing massive migration from Areas A and B into Area C. As I have been at pains to underscore in the past, a cursory glance at a map of Area C will quickly bring home the implausibility of such a task – made even more insurmountable by the fact that Bennett is on record as recommending the abolition of roadblocks, and endorsing total freedom of movement for the Arab residents of Judea-Samaria.

This, of course, will dramatically disrupt the optimistic demographic balance in Area C, particularly if the process is seen as being drawn out over decades, even if (perhaps, especially if) the “intruders” are precluded from being given Israeli citizenship.

For as I have frequently pointed out, it is not only electoral arithmetic that will determine the realities of life in the country, but the sociocultural fabric of the population, which to a great degree will be determined by the presence of a large Arab population, enfranchised or otherwise.

Governance of Areas B & C

Extending Israeli sovereignty to Area C begs the question of who will govern the remaining Areas A & B.

It is highly implausible that any Palestinian individual or entity of adequate authority will agree to take responsibility for the governance of these areas following an Israeli annexation of Area C (comprising 60% of Judea-Samaria).

For this would inevitably be construed as traitorous acknowledgment of the Israeli annexation and its implicit acceptance.

But even in the unlikely event that some yet-to-be-identified Palestinian could be found, pliable enough to swallow Israeli annexation of most of Judea-Samaria, Bennett’s formula for enhanced autonomy of the Palestinian-Arabs in Areas A and B still appears highly problematic.

So when he declares: “I don’t want to govern them…

I don’t want to take care of their schools. They’re doing their own job there,” is he really endorsing the wild Judeophic incitement in the current curricula? Does he see this as part of the long-term arrangement with the Palestinians, or does he in fact want to interfere in the formulation of what is taught in their schools? The same can be said for the management of shared water resources, sewage treatment and other pollutants, control of contagious diseases, roadworthiness of vehicles on “shared highways”…

No, extended autonomy has always been a pipe dream and a prescription for further friction.

The gravest error

Perhaps the gravest error in Bennett’s approach is his suggestion that by enhancing the standard of living of the Palestinian Arabs, he will somehow diminish the tension and hostility toward Israel.

It is difficult to overstate how unfounded – and counterproductive – this contention is. Sadly, I do not have enough space to elaborate on why this is so, but perhaps the best way to illustrate why enhanced affluence will not induce enhanced tranquility is to quote Bennett himself in responding to Indyk. He – correctly – remarked: “What we’re seeing in the Muslim world is very affluent Muslims… who are going to ISIS and cutting off heads…”

Indeed, they are.

The entire concept that Israel has any practical interest or moral obligation to support or promote the Palestinian economy is totally without foundation – either ethical or pragmatic.

Indeed, Israel should be doing precisely the opposite.

On the one hand, it should create strong disincentives for Palestinian-Arabs to stay, by letting the unsustainable Palestinian economy implode under the weight of its pervasive corruption and bloated bureaucracy. On the other hand, it should provide strong incentives for them to leave, by offering individual Palestinians generous relocation grants to extricate themselves from the sorry fate their failed “leadership” has brought them.

Call the enemy the enemy

Bennett’s Saban Forum performance was far more convincing on what should not be done, than on what should be done; on what must be avoided, than on what must be undertaken.

Perhaps his major failing can be traced to his reluctance, common to nearly all Israeli political leaders, to designate the Palestinian-Arab collective as what it really is – and what they designate themselves: the enemy – implacable and obdurate.

This reticence is perhaps rooted in a desire to mollify Western audiences. It is, however, entirely misplaced and results repeatedly in unrealistic Israeli policy proposals, which assume that somehow, the Palestinians-Arabs will become either future peace partners, or loyal (at least, docile) residents/citizens under benign Jewish rule.

If Bennett is to become an effective leader who can steer the nation to a secure future, this is a reticence he must shed.

Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies www.strategicisrael.org.

December 11, 2014 | 36 Comments »

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  1. Yamit writes

    Who is this “WE” you keep inserting in your comment “Kimosabe”?

    Read my posts again nd you will see that I most often use the words as in above “you will be attacked” meaning you Israel or Israelis will be attacked.

    But read my blog also and you will see that I and http://www.4international.me have always defended Israel against attacks of all kinds.

    This has made our movement unique in the rvolutionary socialist left and for that we are hatd by Antisemites in a very “unique” way as well.

    In that sence I could well at times write “we” and it would be correct.

    I am a Zionist from the standpoint of revolutionary socialism in the same way that Trotsky was a Zionist also from the standpoint of materialism

    Why do I say that Trotsky was a Zionist—because he defended the rights of the Jewish people to set up their Homeland in Israel

    However all of this is a very big evasión and diverwsion of the issue being discussed … how do we understand the position of Bennett

    I consider Bennett to be about the same as Netanyahu in that he is prepared to give away Judea and Samaria tot he Arab enemy of the Jews.

    I said this int he article last week when all on Israpundit were totally behind Bennett

    People seem to have forgotten about last week while Haleví has not surfaced (I hope he is well by the way)

  2. Felix Quigley Said:

    B Ross not sure what you are saying in these cut and paste posts…

    I copy and paste or blockquote text as a reference and then direct my following comment to that quote from the article or from a poster. You appear unable to use the blockquote tool Highlight the text you wish to quote and then press the highlight and quote button at the top of the comment you are answering. which part of my comments do you not understand? If there is no name it probably was copied from the article text.

  3. Ted Belman Said:

    I suggested that if Bennett is able to get Bibi to alocate a lot of money for Hasbara that he should put Sherman in charge of its disbursement and its message.

    I prefer more money into shurat ha din and less expensive diplomatic action. Sherman’s message is the annexation of everything before transferring the 5th column, I find this dangerous. I prefer Bennet’s annexation of C and continuing the status quo for the mid-term and applying Sherman’s policies, coupled with deportation policies for undesirables of A&B. At a later date A&B can be revisited, no transfer of state sovereignty over the land, that must remain to the jordan river. In the future I expect Jordan to change by revolution, war or constitutional monarchy and that in the future the pals will have to go there as it is the 80% of the pal mandate territory reserved JEW FREE for the pals. There are many ways to achieve that goal over the long term

    As for immediate diplomatic and political:
    Please ask Bennett to ask BB and the FM to summon ALL the nations who signed or guaranteed the mandate directives to demand:
    1- cessation of libels of illegitimacy or illegality of Jewish settlement in YS
    2- to reverse their policies to mitigate the damage of their libels and obstruction to fulfill their agreements with the Jewish people to “facilitate immigration and encourage close settlement” in ALL of the mandate.
    Furthermore, ask BB to state that there will be no discussions with any nation who continues to utter those canards and no negotiation with any pal entity who does not completely purge anti semitism from their national institutions. why would a nation who directly controls dangerous people give up that control? Murderers and dangerous lunatics are not released from supervision until they prove 100% to be of no further danger AND after paying the price of the damages of their criminal actions if applicable.

    the cost of those actions are almost nil 🙁

  4. Felix Quigley Said:

    Are you blind or cannot understand words?

    Mr. Ross may be “blind an cannot understand” but you would be fortunate to able to write and present as intelligently

    Felix Quigley Said:

    Yamit losing his marbles

    Even sans marbles, Yamt82’s posts are far more erudite then yours. Perhaps you should drop a marble or two such as your adherence to defunct Communists.

    Felix Quigley Said:

    If you are going to argue by cut and paste

    Yamit82 “cuts and paste” in order to provide information for the ill-informed. You should be humbly grateful, Kimosabe

  5. @ Felix Quigley:

    Jewish monarchy lasted almost a thousand years, while not perfect, it was no worse than what we have today. I see it being a constitutional monarchy and if it proves very bad the people always have the right of insurrection.

    At least it would be a Jewish solution and not a Greek Hybrid.

  6. @ Felix Quigley:

    Mid-term economic planning proved a communist failure, but democratic states plan something incredibly more complex than economy – human societies. The peace process will invariably fail. The only solution to Israeli-Arab conflict is to stop seeking a solution. If Jews lack a resolve for the biblically mandated solution, the only alternative is living through a smoldering conflict for centuries. That’s completely acceptable.

    Many more Israelis are killed in car accidents than in terrorist acts.

  7. During this time we should set up a program whereby every Arab in what we annex, be offered money to leave just as Sherman proposes. Assuming that such Arabs do take the bait and leave then we can expand the program for the Arabs in the rest of the area when we are ready.

    Then annex it all. I don’t want to offer citizenship. I don’t want to induce them to stay as Bennett suggests.

    This must be done in the correct manner. For instance if we annex a revised area C first, will the Supreme Court allow us to offer money only to these Arabs and not to anyone else living in Israel or the illegal aliens. Will the Court insist we offer them a path to citizenship? Perhaps we will have to get them to move out before annexation? (end quote)

    So how about this as an answer:

    1. abolish first of all the Supreme Court
    2. state the borders of Israel, forget a b and c just do it, those are the borders
    3. arrest and imprison Abbas and others in Fatah

    take it from there bit by bit if necessary but do those things first

    You will be attacked in the same way that Russia and Putin is attacked. So form a very close relationship with Russia on the basis of these issues or at least try to

    Begin expulsions of dangerous antisemites Araba nd jewish antisemites both, and simultaneous with that offer enticements to others…expulsions are a principle and enticements are somewhat else

    State clearly that Gaza is yours. Do nothing there yet. Stop though all transports into the Gaza enemy

    Oh and close down Haaretz sending Amira Hass to Gaza with one way ticket to be reconsidered later (her fate as a traitor)

    You could not ask for a more pliable and adaptable plan than that.

    Where you go wrong is messing around with these phoney a b and c entities which are also OSLO entities

    Lastly explain everything in the open and to the Israeli people and to all arabs also in the área.

    In that context with a new government in power introduce Sherman’s Hisbara concepts with enormous emphasis on the role of Hajj Amin el Husseini in the Holocaust, and also linking the role of the Jewish state as nation to active AND OPEN support for selected national liberation struggles, especially basque, catalonian, Ulster, Welsh, Scottish and Corsican. Arm Kurds to the gills,

  8. I have taken issue with Bennett’s plan also but have not endorsed Sherman’s plam in full.

    Once we annex, it will signal the end of Oslo so we won’t be bound by the boundaries of A, B and C. We should redraw the borders of C to fit out needs. In doing so we will include B where it is west of the boundary and we will exclude some of C. We should spend however long it takes to negotiate autonomy over the rest whether temporary or permanant.

    During this time we should set up a program whereby every Arab in what we annex, be offered money to leave just as Sherman proposes. Assuming that such Arabs do take the bait and leave then we can expand the program for the Arabs in the rest of the area when we are ready.

    Then annex it all. I don’t want to offer citizenship. I don’t want to induce them to stay as Bennett suggests.

    This must be done in the correct manner. For instance if we annex a revised area C first, will the Supreme Court allow us to offer money only to these Arabs and not to anyone else living in Israel or the illegal aliens. Will the Court insist we offer them a path to citizenship? Perhaps we will have to get them to move out before annexation?

  9. B Ross not sure what you are saying in these cut and paste posts…are you saying there is no difference between positions of Bennett and positions of Sherman? Are you blind or cannot understand words?

  10. Yamit policies DO absolutely matter. Absolutely. How can you say such things with a straight face? The whole debate in this and last week post is about policies. Absurd. Totally absurd Yamit!

  11. @ woolymammoth:
    @ yamit82:
    @ bernard ross:
    @ Yidvocate:I am in contact with Bennets associate and urging him to set up a meeting between Sherman and I and with Bennett and whoever. I suggested that if Bennett is able to get Bibi to alocate a lot of money for Hasbara that he should put Sherman in charge of its disbursement and its message.

    I will keep you posted.

  12. MK Bennet made it very clear that he was not “married” to the plan. As usual professor Sherman misses the point, while making good points of his own. The main point is the recognition that The Oslo Accords did not work, are obsolete; not for want of Israeli compliance and are null and void. That means no more Israeli withdrawals from any more territory. Bennet emphasized the issue of NOT giving up territory for “peace” as not going to happen.
    I do not see any agreements on the horizon unless it is in conjunction with a broader agreement between Israel, Jordan, Egypt and with the blessings of SA, UAE etc etc. That agreement may be only temporary at best, so Israel should not make any grand gestures. In short, what I got from Bennet, is an entirely new perspective on the war, which puts an end to Israel’s obligation to make concessions, especially one sided ones. Let the enemy give, it is they who are going to have to prove their worthiness as a peace partner. Given the state of incitement in the disputed territories, I do not expect to see any movement for as long as I live. Bennet has only enunciated the unstated but obvious change in directions initiated by Netanyahu himself. no one noticed because it was so incremental, oh except for one, Livni would have noticed.

  13. Call the enemy the enemy

    I agree but then why allow them movement beyond their current 40% and why offer any citizenship to enemies? citizenship will not lessen their hatred but allow them more opportunity to destroy Israel from within. Israel needs less 5th columnists not more. Jordan withdrew its citizenship from their arabs but why should thatt be Israels problem. Just like non absorbed, non citizen pals in lebanon, etc the arabs in A& B can remain stateless until Jordan takes them back or gives them citizenship to move. the main thing is that actions of others should not now be shouldered by Israel. Jordans unilateral action should not be taken over as israels problem.

  14. It is highly implausible that any Palestinian individual or entity of adequate authority will agree to take responsibility for the governance of these areas following an Israeli annexation of Area C (comprising 60% of Judea-Samaria).

    does Israel need to supervise the arabs based on their agreement? If they dont want to govern themselves in an orderly or peaceful manner they will have to suffer the red tape and harshness of martial law. Who cares, anyone who riots or bucks the law should be deported across any border that has no benefit of a peace treaty with israel. Any families returned from tunisia should be deported now that Oslo is dead as their the only reason for allowing them in was based on the now dead Oslo. This will rid Israel of the PLO and their families.

  15. For, after 20 to 40 years, all it envisages for 90 percent of the Arab residents of Judea-Samaria is being confined to 40% of the area,

    I thought that 90%of the arabs already live on 40% of the land and already can only move within that 40%(A&B)?

    scattered across a myriad of disconnected enclaves and corridors, in a state of unenfranchised, open-ended stateless political suspension.

    So what? They still demonstrate that they cannot exist in Israel unsupervised. Teaching their children anti smitism and lying about Jewish connections is enough to maintain various forms of the status quo. No land sovereignty and no Israeli citzenship except in C but limited autonomy in the near future. They suffer because they could not accommodate peacefully with the Jews, that is their problem and israel should not shoulder the burdens created by themselves. they must demonstrate they are 100% trustworthy before getting any autonomies or freedoms. How does Israel maintain C now separately from the PA in A&B? the arabs cannot be allowed to freely move throughout Israel, they are too mired in jew hatred for one shred of trust. any approach should be tailored to the interests of Israel and NOT the arab enemy.

  16. Oslo never panned out but don’t tell me it’s policies didn’t matter. We traded the truth of our legitimacy for the fake pali-poser “narrative” and accepted that we are colonial occupiers of others lands. A deep whole way may never climb out of. Don’t tell policies don’t matter.

  17. Policies don’t matter they never pan out anyway but vision wisdom and spine (character) will do. The implementation will be ad-hock micro steps sometimes trial and error till it gets right.

  18. Well aware of the Israeli political system. I merely lament someone espousing these effective solutions is nowhere to be seen on the Israeli political horizon. “Good and effective” is neither good nor effective, no matter how great his/her political talents, without the right policies and the fortitude to lead and carry them out.

  19. You don’t run for PM in Israel you must have a political party behind you and be elected or nominated to head the party list and if you win and get the most seats in the general election you might be selected by the President to form a coalition/

    That’s how it works in Israel. Not everyone who writes what you like to hear would make a good or effective PM. Most wouldn’t in fact.

  20. Why isn’t Martin Sherman running for P.M.? This guy’s deep rooted understanding of the conflict and it’s only workable solution needs to be adopted by all leaders of Israel.